501(c)3 Public Charity…Here We Come! @F2SMonth #FarmtoSchool

Have you ever had one of those “I’ve gotta Press this” moments? Well, I’m smack dab in the middle of one!

I’ve spent the last couple of months doing some truly grassroots reaching out…my front yard has been a non-stop, honesty-based, fresh local produce stand. In the beginning, I was working elsewhere part-time. At that point, most of the maintenance and interpersonal communication was handled by my wife. Things changed, and I was able to devote my attention to what turned out to be a multi-faceted operation…exactly as I would have had it, looking back. More on the specifics of recent events can be found on the Facebook Page.

Today, on October 19, we have a display that boasts fresh local tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, zucchini, garlic, and pumpkins. Non-food items such as straw and decorative corn are also available. The local fresh food at this time of the year is pretty much unprecedented in our little community in East-Central Illinois, and we receive thanks on a near-daily basis from our customers. It can be the norm, and others are stepping up to help it become so!

There are obvious hiccups associated with a front-yard stand, especially when the front yard has about six feet of space in the most visible area. Weather…. Oh, I could complain about the weather, if that was what this blog was about. As my neighbor so aptly stated, “Anything to do with agriculture is reliant on the weather.” The gist of the comment on weather refers to rain, frost possibilities, and of course heat. We lost approximately 38% of what would otherwise be high quality, marketable goods to weather. We lost sales due to adverse conditions (Really, who wants to shop in the rain?). But, we kept track of all of that, and it’s also helpful to the cause. We helped people…profitably.

What’s more, we have had customers drive 50 or more miles from nearly every direction, while operating on a budget of less than $30 for Advertising/Marketing!

For those who have followed Illiana Ag Alliance for very long, you likely know that the form of organization is a sole proprietorship. Frankly, I did not know anybody that was able to see the movement through without risk of perverting it. I also thought that the only way a quick decision could be made was through this form of organization. I have been, and am, willing to take the risk of making the wrong decisions…. I was wrong…or at least, to think that remaining as a sole proprietorship now is the best solution is incorrect.

I made my decision about a week ago. I’ve been reading up on all IRS Regulations that concern a 501(c)3 Public Charity…and it fits well. (I have not yet studied State requirements). It’s going to be fun wading through the necessities for a non-profit for the first time, but it can be done.

Here’s the blogworthy event:

I received a message to call from a like-minded old friend. Ironically, I was going to soon ask him to be a member of the Board of Directors. Well, my friend, Robert Houpt, starts our conversation with “I’m going to start a non-profit.” Wow, the idea was amazing…encompassing all of the basic tenets of the 501(c)3 that I wished to form and more!

I’ll fill in more on how it evolves once it is more clear, but the bottom line is that the conversation led to each planning on asking the other to be a part of the charity. As of now, papers are not signed. The way the IRS sees a non-profit, the moment two or more sign a particular document, the 501(c)3 can begin operating as such, but with limits naturally imposed on an unrecognized 501(c)3. Funding, especially locally, is reliant on the approved 501(c)3 status.

Without funding, the charity will have a 3/4 ton truck with a towing package, a couple of growing lights, two pieces of land directly down the road from each other that will, when funded, sport housing that would most likely attract low-income tenants due to the greenhouses and hoophouses that tenants will use, with our support, to grow and sell their own vegetables.

I guess I did not mention who Robert is….. Robert is a graduate of the Class of 2000 here in Martinsville–the class that built the school greenhouse (see picture below). He currently owns an HVAC/Construction Company. More importantly, Robert acts on his charitable thoughts, and has a keen view of ethical and sustainable business. He shares my vision, and our skills, abilities, and arguments complement each other well. He built a flower garden for the local Pre-K, and is volunteering his services, labor, and supplies as In-Kind Contributions to rebuild the greenhouse at our school now.

The picture:

10/19/2014

10/19/2014

I’m not sure if the picture has the clarity to see, but the end nearest the white building has a geothermal heat pump with propane backup. Robert has volunteered to attempt to repair the heat pump, which is what is stopping the school from putting up plastic immediately. Once repaired, I will start the veggies and fruits in my basement, for now. We will help to put in a sink, help lay out the greenhouse, source seed, train volunteers, get the community active, etc. There are other future plans and needs for curriculum-based School Gardens, starting with Martinsville School District, but the “curriculum-based” is just that. The school, Ag/Industrial Arts teacher, and the students will be running the Martinsville School District’s greenhouse. We’re just providing a medium for the community to help.

And there’s the preview, folks. I’m awaiting a meeting with the President of our County’s Farmer’s Market…and likely many more meetings in the future…but this is how Illiana Ag Alliance looks today.

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Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

Well, I have shifted to part-time as Process Control Engineer at Rowe Foundry. Apparently, this is a pretty unprecedented option I was given. I have referred to the foundry as being Christian and having Christian values before, but I truly get to experience it first hand now. And the security combined with opportunity for the food hub…priceless. Continue reading

The Farm Bill, the Produce Rule, and Illiana Ag Alliance

The Four Hour Workday…. 

I have published elsewhere about my being referred to this book (thanks L.A.). I listened to the YouTube audio a few times, learning and forgetting to listen equally. The truth is that the lessons I gleaned may or may not have been those intended. Patience and…well, that is about all I remember. I still am not that guy that can stop the grinding of the brain-gears easily, but doing the right thing helped.

Before I go into a lot of detail about the Agriculture Act of 2014 and how it impacts the movement here, I must make a confession: I tried to walk away again. I did. I also failed…those gears are connected to my heart somehow. There is more to the story than that: My son was born prematurely, I landed a great career position in my hometown…many personal occurrences…and yet, I am here blogging with a smile. I still have a duty and an amended plan on fulfilling said duty.

To quickly summarize the reference to the proposed Produce Rule: It’s perfect…at least from my vantage point. Perfect, however, is to be interpreted as “the best that one could hope for when others with varying agendas are involved.” All of the major aspects of the proposed rule were covered in their entirety by the GAPs Training provided by the University of Illinois Extension last year. Illiana Ag Alliance is poised to exceed all requirements!

The above link to the 959-page Farm Bill is…dull reading? I have not yet parsed down the exact verbiage. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition summarizes and breaks down the bill well. I will leave the reading of the synopsis to those interested in following the preceding link. I will instead focus on what is going on here currently, what is probable, what has changed, and what is still standing strong from the preliminary plans that have developed and evolved over time….

Setting up/keeping shop in Casey, Illinois, is changed. This is almost home…a mere six miles away. However, it’s the people and the municipality that spur the change. It’s the school system, the town’s dynamic, and the fact that the town of 1,300 individuals is where it all started for me. Mostly, it is the fact that Martinsville, Illinois is my home at heart. Shortly, it will be my home by location, also….

I will begin expounding here, with the forthcoming 6-mile move. As some may know, my new career position is with a family-owned company that has been a cornerstone of Martinsville’s economy and sustainability since 1898–providing fair wages, implementing a system of impeccable ethics, and offering an opportunity for many successes within, outside of…and very much in line with Illiana Ag Alliance’s goals today. We share values, and that is irreplaceable.

I had not yet read about this Farm Bill (truthfully, I had no clue that one was finally nearing completion) until today. However, it seems that legislators heard my prayers in so many ways. A Farm-to-School Pilot may be the best part. I have already spoken with a School Board member and two teachers, and I hope that a presentation is able to be added to the next Board Meeting Agenda following my request.

Other initiatives, such as expanding local food initiatives to include aggregators, are great to read about. The NSAC synopsis (above) mentions a grocery initiative. Leonard, the owner of Martinsville’s grocery store, is prepared to ally with Illiana Ag Alliance as a provider of source-identified local foods. There are still the other 20+ local/regional grocers and ? restaurants that desire local, sustainable food…but the in-town option helps fill the void left by the recent absence of a Clark County Farmer’s Market. Markets outside of Clark County and adjoining Counties are now in the “local melon/pumpkin-only” category insofar as planning is concerned for the forthcoming season.

I heard about the signing of the Farm Bill on my return trip to what I hope is to be my family’s new home in Martinsville. (The seller is also quite interested in furthering the local food movement). Our potential home sits on two lots…one with the house and room for a greenhouse, and one with an approximately 40’x100′ machine shed. Yes, a machine shed…destined to be the aggregation and wholesale distribution point for local foods. How? Truthfully, I’m not sure. I can tell you a million possibilities, a handful of probabilities, and some definites. Instead, I will wait for the next City Council meeting before I post more. It’s still in a “Don’t count your chickens….” stage today. The short story is that a Public/Private Cooperative is to be explored. The City was willing to assist the former Farmer’s Market in almost any way, so hopes are high!

So much is missing from this post: the most local Amish community is moving away, there are many new (very local) growers, the “Seeds and Starts Campaign” is about to begin, Organic Initiatives, invitations, and so very much more. Many events are destined without dates, what is to come and what is planned always evolve…and yet it is time to bring this local–where it all began.

At this second, however, I’m off to bed. 2:45 AM comes awfully early nowadays. The next step? Well, beyond the previous highlights, procuring the other 75% of the money to purchase the home and building outright–for roughly half of its value. This means I have a lot of research and number-crunching to do quickly, while exceeding the expectations of my new position AND keeping my family life in order…but the financial outlook is so much better than when I was trying to single-handedly change the local food system mere months ago. A modestly healthy revenue stream and expanded self-imposed timeline bring much opportunity and relief!

In short, Illiana Ag Alliance and the Burson Family are alive, well, and poised to fulfill our duty. Stumbling is again giving way to opportunity, insight, and refreshed vigor!

Live well…and until next time!

 

National Food Hub Survey Results Are In!

This is an excerpt from the main page of CRFS (Michigan State University) and the Wallace Center at Winrock International:

“Food hubs are businesses or organizations that manage the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products. In early 2013, CRFS and the Wallace Center at Winrock International conducted the National Food Hub Survey to identify economic growth trends for food hubs across the nation and monitor changes in services offered and the variety of customers served.

Researchers also sought to:

Help shape national understanding of food hubs and informing future policy and program initiatives
Gain greater exposure for food hubs nationally
Inform new potential relationships between food hubs and investors, grant makers and other food hubs looking to find success.
The recent survey results from more than 100 food hubs demonstrate that hubs throughout the United States continue to develop as financially viable businesses providing locally produced food to restaurants, schools, grocery stores and other wholesale customers. Food hubs may also provide much needed size-appropriate infrastructure and marketing opportunities for local food produced by small and midsized farms and ranches.”

I will read up on the specific results, attend tomorrow’s webinar, and update with more specific information posthaste.